Ever since I first saw these breeches at the study facilities at the Fashion Museum in Bath last week, I have been searching my brain, books and the internet for some answers about their origin. My research has proved my first assumption, that these breeches are incredibly unique, to be correct. My searches for similar examples, and queries to other dress historians, have proven fruitless. So, what do we know, what are the possibile reasons why the alterations occurred, and what is the wider historical implication of those possibilities?
In this post I will focus on the first of these questions: what do we know?
These breeches are constructed from a recycled late eighteenth-century quilted petticoat. This is an accepted fact. Firstly, the pattern of the quilting has clearly not been designed for the cut of this garment. Secondly, the silk, wadding, lining combination are exactly as would be expected on a quilted petticoat of this date.
So when was the original petticoat made? This example from the Springhill, County Londonderry Collection has similar patterns, and is dated to the 1740-1760. However it could easily be later, or indeed earlier, like this example from the Snowshill Costume Collection. I will be getting in touch shortly with an expert on quilted petticoats for their opinion.
We also know that they were on display at the Fashion Museum for a number of years. At the time, they were displayed as part of a man’s outfit of the 1770s-1780s, and it is possibly from this period that the fading originated. Therefore the clear fading lines indicating a man’s coat are not necessarily and indication of how it was originally worn.
There are significant areas of patching on the petticoat/breeches. This patching is done with the same fabric as the buttons are covered with, indicating that it was carried out as part of the alteration process. The patches also go down the seam lines, so were carried out before the petticoat was put together. Interestingly, they have been quilted over, mimicking the original design. What these patches are covering is unclear. It could be staining, rips or deterioration of the silk.
The construction of the breeches themselves is as we would expect from a pair of breeches of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century. They are hand stitched and the gusset at the waist has been hand pinked with a pinking iron, indicating that the alteration must have happened probably before the middle of the nineteenth century. The main body of the breeches is lined with the original, and rather coarse, lining of the petticoat. However, the flaps and waistband have all been faced with a plain weave cotton, and they show minimal signs of wear.
That is a basic overview of some of the main features which are apparent from viewing the object. What do you think? What do these features say to you? Any ideas about why they were altered? Maybe you know of a similar example? Let me know! I will write another post shortly about possible motives behind the alteration, and who might have worn them.
All images courtesy of the Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council